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Planning helps reduce Thanksgiving stress

OK, folks, we’ve got two weeks until “The Big Day.” If you’re hosting this most food-centric holiday, you know it can get expensive and be very stressful. I’m going on 30 years of making Thanksgiving dinner for my family and friends. Have I had turkey-tastrophies? Of course. But I’ve learned from my mistakes and get better every year. So I’d like to humbly share some advice.

Here is my strategy for a successful dinner that will be enjoyed by your guests and by you, the less-stressed host.

1. Make a menu ASAP, and then discard half of it. Seriously. We get excited and ambitious and want to try everything we see on Pinterest. Now isn’t the time. No one wants to eat shaved Brussels sprouts salad out of Mason jars. Stick to traditional family favorites, and you’ll be thankful you did.

2. Delegate. Accept help wherever you can. If you’re hosting, you should prepare the turkey and therefore the gravy, because they can be cumbersome to transport, but everything else can be up for grabs. This way you share the cost, time and stress, because that’s what friends are for. Those who don’t cook bring ice and beverages. People love to contribute, so let ’em.

3. Once you’ve selected your recipes, make a master shopping list divided by the departments of the store: dairy, produce, canned, frozen. Separate what can be purchased in advance and do that now. Watch for sales and use coupons to maximize savings. Don’t wait too long to get the essentials, especially the turkey. Make a “last minute” list for perishables like salad greens and plan to pick them up the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Not Wednesday. Items sell out, and you might need that extra day to make other plans.

4. Know when to defrost your turkey. Rule of thumb: Thaw in the refrigerator 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. A 25-pound turkey takes six days.

5. Prepare as much in advance as possible. Make pies, chop vegetables and premeasure ingredients.

6. Make an oven schedule. Work backward from the time you want to serve dinner and plan for each dish. Be sure to include warming dishes brought by guests. Use your microwave and slow cooker to ease stovetop congestion. Remember the turkey should rest for at least 45 minutes, so you can use that time to reheat side dishes.

7. Set the table the night before, including all the serving dishes and utensils. Cover with a sheet if you’re concerned about dust or pets. Label serving dishes with sticky notes, so guests can help put things on the table. This way, if you see an empty dish, you know you’ve forgotten something.

8. Plan to have beverages, cocktails and simple appetizers ready before guests arrive to minimize the stress of starving people poking their heads into the kitchen. Choose light appetizers that can be left at room temperature, like crudités, olives, bruschetta, cheese and crackers. It’s never too early to pop open a bottle of bubbly to get the party started.

9. Plan activities for guests before dinner. Crafts and games for the kids. Don’t fight the football; you’ll lose. Put out some family photo albums as blackmail fodder.

10. Most importantly: Remember to be thankful. Be grateful for every little thing — the kids, the pets, the in-laws, the laughter and the mess. We get a finite number of holidays to celebrate, so be present enough to enjoy this one. If something goes wrong, so what? If dinner is late, so what?

What’s important is being with friends and family, and for that give thanks!

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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